The Law of Liberty1
If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself,” you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it. For he who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment. James 2:8-13
If you have been around small children or have watched TV shows with kids in, then you have probably heard them say, “You can’t tell me what to do! You’re not the boss of me!” Unfortunately that is the sentiment within every human heart towards the Lord. We are conceived in iniquity. We are born with a natural, really an unnatural, bent away from God and towards self. Like Adam, Eve and Satan we want to be God. We want to make the rules. Our heart says to the triune God, “You can’t tell me what to do! You’re not the boss of me!”
The sober reality is that God is the Boss of us. He made us and He tells us how to live. He is the Lawmaker. This inbuilt antipathy towards God’s Law has even crept into the church. Many Christians and even whole denominations misinterpret Paul’s statement that, “We are not under Law but under grace.” (Romans 6:14) to mean that any mention of the Law or commands in Scripture is legalism. Many pastors will never preach the imperatives (the commands) in the Bible because they see the Law as something negative.
Please reread our passage for today. What is James’ view of the Law? Is it negative or positive? Notice the phrases that he uses: “The royal law”, “the law of liberty.” Is that how you view God’s Law? It is royal, this is the King’s Law, and what a King we serve! Jesus is no petty dictator, no megalomaniac battling with inferiority complexes, no power crazed third world tyrant. He is the Shepherd King, the King who perfectly obeyed His own Law and died in the place of lawbreakers like you and me. It is the law of liberty. Most of us have no paradigm for such a phrase. There is a short-circuit that occurs in our minds, surely those two words, law and liberty, can’t go together. We have been so affected and infected by our culture that we battle to realise that good laws set us free to be truly human. God didn’t make us and then think, “How can I make their lives miserable? I know, I will give them the Law.” The Law has always been given for our good. Just as a parent teaching their child how to cross the road makes certain ‘laws,’ “Look right, look left, look right again.” This law isn’t made to stop the child from having fun, it’s made so that they will live long enough to have more fun. The Law is given to preserve life, not just physical life but life in its wholeness; physical, psychological, spiritual and emotional.
One other role of the Law, that James has already dealt with, is that of a mirror to show us that we are lawbreakers. We are all adulterers and murderers according to Jesus (Matthew 5:21-30) and thus we all deserve judgement. James, however, says that mercy triumphs over judgement. Because of Golgotha there is grace, because of Calvary there is clemency. Jesus kept the Law perfectly and that perfect obedience is credited to your account if you are a believer, now go and live out that obedience and say with the Psalmist, “My delight is in the law of the LORD.” (Psalm 1:2)